The Making of Zimbabwe: Decolonization in Regional and International Politics

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By and large richly documented, they deal with different and mostly complementary subjects. Roughly half of his book is dedicated to the analysis of colonial violence and the British attempts at legitimizing their brutal warfare. These parts, consequently, are not related to human rights history in the strict sense. The other half deals with the human rights policies of both the metropolitan governments and the anticolonial movements, drawing on archival material from British, French, and UN records. He concentrates on four key moments or aspects of this development which he sees as symptomatic of broader trends: the conference of African and Asian nations in Bandung in ; the attitudes toward the right to self-determination and the right to petition; the UN human rights conference in Tehran in ; and, finally, the emergence of the doctrine of cultural relativism.

Klose and Burke share a number of important assumptions. Both consider the idea and the politics of human rights as a key feature of the decolonization process. On the one hand, they regard human rights ideals as an essential ingredient of anticolonialism. Klose, looking at political activists in the colonies, emphasizes that human rights rhetoric came to play a key role in legitimizing their struggle. On the other hand, the authors see colonial and postcolonial politicians as decisive actors in the shaping of international human rights politics, especially at the United Nations.

In this way, at least for the roughly two decades following the war, they trace an essentially positive relationship between human rights and colonial emancipation. Both interpret human rights as an expression of progressive, emancipatory ideals and even an important basis for the furthering of independence and freedom. Finally, another shared characteristic of both books is that they stop short of examining whether and to what extent human rights mattered for the decision of the colonial powers to abandon their colonies.

The two studies may not add up to a coherent narrative but they develop elements of an interpretation with which every future analysis will have to engage. Therefore, they seem to provide a fruitful occasion for a reflection on the history of human rights in decolonization. As yet the still nascent historiography on human rights has not paid much attention to the decolonization process and authors have dealt with only rather limited aspects.

In response, it seems valuable to take stock systematically, examining the role of human rights for both activists in the colonies and metropolitan powers, the uses of the idea in different forums, and the effects of human rights politics for the overall process of decolonization. In part, I build on the results Klose and Burke have reached, but I also suggest new interpretations on the basis of different material or by highlighting aspects with which they do not deal. In addition, since research on the topic is still fledgling it seems useful to raise some important questions that will have to be addressed in future studies in order to fully understand the many facets of human rights in decolonization.

Broadening the historical focus underlying both studies, respectively, I argue that the history of human rights in decolonization is more complex and ambiguous than either of the accounts might suggest.

Open issues

Guha, K. Although some of his writing was achieved in collaboration and written by others, the ideas in his books were clearly his. Rachel Beatty Riedl , Northwestern University. However, with the passage of time, this stratification has slowly disappeared [20] The Ndebele people have for long ascribed to the worship of Unkunkulu as their supreme being. Controls were placed on wages, prices and massive increases in government spending resulting in significant budget deficits.

At the most general level, what can be said is that in the process leading to the end of colonialism, human rights were neither highly significant nor completely absent. Their interest for the study of decolonization lies in between these extremes. The story of human rights in decolonization is the story of their occasional importance and relative weight, of experimental and shifting strategies, ambiguous appropriations, and limited effects. Their meaning and instrumentality were different for different actors, at different points in time, and in different forums.

This makes it necessary to focus on specific contexts and to look for partial explanations. More specifically, I will contend that looking beyond those relatively few instances where African and Asian actors did refer to human rights, the new international language proves to have been clearly marginal in their political project. Furthermore, those activists and states that did base their claims on human rights did not so much express their commitment to universal norms as appropriate them for their specific anticolonial policies. To them, human rights served as a largely sporadic strategy of legitimizing their struggle against colonialism.

This strategy, moreover, seems to have been much more important at the level of supranational coalitions than in the rhetoric of individual activists. By far the most important forum was the United Nations, and both Klose and Burke are quite correct in arguing that postcolonial actors decisively shaped UN human rights work. African and Asian initiatives in the UN were ambiguous, however, serving as a highly politicized, if largely symbolic, attempt to counter the global hegemony of First World states and to restructure the international state system.

In the British case, indications can be found that in the eyes of policymakers anticolonial criticism did come to affect the international image and the legitimacy of the British position in the world and thus constituted a factor in the decision to end colonial rule. However, this occurred at a relatively late point in time and human rights accusations never formed a dominant motivation for colonial retreat.

This essay will discuss three dimensions of the topic that appear to be particularly important. The first section attempts to assess the significance of human rights for anticolonial movements.

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The second deals with the policy of postcolonial states in the United Nations. Finally, the third section considers the attitude of colonial powers toward human rights and analyzes the role human rights played in the end of colonial rule. By looking at these different contexts, I hope to provide an interpretation that is in keeping with current views of the decolonization process itself.


Given the vast dimensions and enormous complexity of the dissolution of colonial empires, many historians have come to prefer limited, fractured, and case-by-case explanations over static, general models, however multicausal. In view of the variegated character and long duration of decolonization, it would indeed be surprising to discover that human rights played a clear-cut role in the process. In the s, the colonial powers committed themselves to a wide range of principles that stood in notable contrast to the idea and practice of colonial rule.

Already during the Second World War, in an attempt to mobilize worldwide support and, not least, to harness the colonies for the war effort, metropolitan governments vowed to fight the war for the purpose of freedom, democracy, and human rights. After the end of the war, they formalized their commitment by signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of and the European Convention on Human Rights of though France did not ratify it until the s. In theory, the newly proclaimed principles provided colonial actors with a new basis to justify their aspirations to gain independence.

Both Klose and Burke use the emergence of human rights language and the establishment of international rights regimes as starting points for their studies. In particular, they referred to the so-called Atlantic Charter of August , originally a press statement following the meeting between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and subsequently interpreted by both in different and mutually exclusive ways. These activists were certainly important exponents of anticolonial thought and Klose is quite correct in arguing that the Atlantic Charter turned into a central reference point for anticolonialism.

African Summitry

However, this was not due to the idea of human rights, a term which the Charter did not even mention. Rather, what sparked the enthusiastic reception in the colonies was the fact that the Charter explicitly stated the principle of self-determination. By speaking of self-determination, the Allied leaders reactivated a promise that had been prominent in the subjected regions of the world since the end of the First World War, when U. To stress the distinction between self-determination and human rights is not a matter of semantic hair splitting.

Particularly since Klose is not the only author equating both ideas, it seems important to recall that in tracing the genesis of international human rights language historians should be careful not to project back the ample understanding of human rights that we have come to be familiar with. Not only does the Atlantic Charter not illustrate the prominence of human rights language in anticolonial thought. A close and comprehensive reading of political writings suggests that it never turned into an anticolonial ideology or even into an important rhetoric at all.

The consolidation of white rule in Southern Africa

Thus, the overall picture belies the assumption that the new international language came to occupy a central place in the struggle for independence. To begin with, the ideological conceptions of African and Asian activists consisted of extremely heterogeneous ideas and plans.

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Consequently, anticolonialism, anti-neocolonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism, anti-discrimination, and anti-apartheid were the foremost political catchwords of the speeches and pamphlets, providing the anticolonial movement with what little unity it had. Essentially, they amounted to vague countervisions of colonial subjugation. Three of them were particularly important: the aim of national independence and freedom, the principle of self-government or self-determination, and the idea of racial equality. The project of economic development, even though frequently proclaimed in the pamphlets, appears to have been less consensual.

Finally, national unity, another prominent propagandistic claim, was a reflection of ethnic and cultural diversity rather than of colonial rule, used to mobilize all different groups within the colonies. Even though they clearly did not provide a consistent political program, these principles at least constituted widespread and frequently voiced demands on which most activists could agree.

In connection with these objectives, the language of rights did play a notable role. Looking at those groups and activists who did explicitly refer to human rights and examining the concrete political use they made of it, the picture becomes even more complex. Activists were far from applying human rights in a uniform way. The most consistent advocate of a human rights idea that closely matched the principles enshrined in the UN human rights system was Azikiwe.

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In later years, Azikiwe persistently criticized the denial of fundamental human rights to Africans, frequently referring to the Universal Declaration of Furthermore, he worked out the vision of a democratic Nigeria, of which human rights, mainly spelled out as basic political rights, formed an integral part. Finally, he even planned the outlines of a Pan-African union which, among others, would be based on a human rights convention. Nevertheless, with his conception of human rights Azikiwe was a singular figure, an exception even among exceptions.

The first Ghanaian president, Kwame Nkrumah, occasionally strengthened his claims by referring to the Universal Declaration, even though more often he distanced himself from the ideas it expressed.

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A more visible and more consistent use of human rights can be observed at the level of supranational coalitions and in international forums, where African and Asian states sought to articulate common interests in the hope of increasing their weight in the international arena. It was here that postcolonial nations used the strategy of anticolonial appropriation most prominently.

They did so precisely by defining their central demands of self-determination and racial equality as human rights. However, this was only one strategy among others in the fight for independence and a more important role in international relations; outside the United Nations it was never applied more than tentatively. In the same way, the language of development can be viewed as a strategy of appropriation and as such probably filled a more important role than the reference to human rights.

The Making of Zimbabwe: Decolonization in Regional and International Politics - CRC Press Book

The nonaligned movement, which was the most important and long-lived of the supranational coalitions, provides a case in point. This movement was a loosely organized platform coordinating a vast array of African, Asian, and Arab states. However, Burke who otherwise is careful to differentiate between the various uses and meanings of the human rights idea, seems to take the Bandung rhetoric too much at face value. Thus, his interpretation of the early relationship between decolonization and human rights loses sight of both the overall place of human rights at the conference and its manifest political instrumentalization.

To begin with, Bandung was not a human rights conference but rather a formative gathering dealing with a broad range of current world problems. More importantly, the delegations infused human rights with a specific meaning. None of these had been prominent claims in the human rights context at the time, not even at the United Nations. Thus, by referring to genuinely colonial experiences and framing them in the new international language, Bandung provides the clearest example of the attempt to redefine the human rights idea and shape it according to anticolonial principles.

The Making of Zimbabwe: Decolonization in Regional and International Politics

RICHARD HODDER-WILLIAMS; The Making of Zimbabwe: Decolonization in regional and international politics, African Affairs, Volume The Making of Zimbabwe: Decolonization in Regional and International Politics (): M. Tamarkin: Books.

Furthermore, it should not be overlooked that Bandung constituted only a brief moment. At the subsequent nonaligned summits in the s and s, human rights clearly receded to the background. Conference documents almost exclusively applied the term to denounce current cases of what was considered to be colonial suppression, specifically directing it against South Africa, Israel, Portugal, and the United States for its policy in Indochina.

In this case, too, the negative consensus of opposing neo- colonialism, imperialism, and foreign domination proved to be the only element holding together the otherwise unlikely coalition of culturally diverse and politically heterogeneous countries vastly differing in their economic levels. The movement saw the end of colonialism as an essential precondition for a peaceful world order and it regarded developmental policies as a strategy of overcoming the economic inequalities resulting from colonialism and neocolonialism.